Archive | July, 2011

Fiore: Dark Chocolate Balsamic

24 Jul

I recently received this lovely bottle of Fiore Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar as a gift. During my recipe research I found that balsamic vinegar is often paired with strawberries. I took full advantage of this common pairing for the dessert I chose to make. I wanted to explore the full range of flavors that can be inspired by balsamic vinegar, so I also made a savory dish of penne with beef and arugula.

Dessert First!

Strawberries Over Vanilla Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar Reduction

Strawberry Topping:

2 pints strawberries chopped

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons dark chocolate balsamic vinegar

1/4 teaspoon to a few grinds black pepper

Balsamic reduction:

3/4 cup dark chocolate balsamic vinegar

Introducing our cast of characters!

1. Chop your strawberries.

2. Add your sugar, balsamic, and a few grinds of black pepper.

3. Mix well. Make sure the strawberries are well blended with the other ingredients. Place in the fridge to rest. Stir periodically while cooking your dinner. This also gives you an excellent opportunity to test out your new strawberry mixture.

4. Pour your 3/4 cup of  dark chocolate balsamic vinegar into a small sauce pan and simmer until reduced by half. It took me about 20 minutes. Keep stirring and make sure the vinegar doesn’t burn.

When it is done the reduction should coat the spatula. As it cools the density will increase. When I was done with the reduction process the chocolate content had all floated to the surface so I had to fold it back in. Move the reduction into a serving vessel and set aside.

And now for dinner…

    Penne with Beef and Arugula
 recipe by Giada de Laurentiis
1 (1 pound) New York Strip Steak
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
1 pound penne pasta
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for steak and pasta water
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for steak
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 cups arugula
1. Season your meat. I used italian seasoning instead of herbs de Provence.
2. While the meat is cooking set a pot to boil for the pasta. When the meat is done to your liking set it aside to rest.
3. As the pasta boils, wash the arugula and set it aside to be tossed with other ingredients.
5. Chop your fresh herbs, 1/4 cup basil and 1/4 cup parsley and add ground pepper and salt.
Combine with 3/4 cup of olive oil plus 3 Tbs, 1/4 cup dark chocolate balsamic vinegar, and 2 Tbs if dijon mustard for the dressing.
6. Thinly slice beef and toss with pasta, arugula, and dressing.
7. Serve and eat. It was delicious. I liked it so much I made it again a week later. The dark chocolate in the vinegar definitely added another dimension to the dish. The second time I made it I had run out of my dark chocolate Fiore and had to make it with regular balsamic vinegar. The chocolate lends a savory balance to the sweetness and tart kick, characteristic of balsamic vinegars.
And don’t forget dessert. After you have savored your dinner and cleared the dishes away at a leisurely pace pull your strawberries out of the fridge. Give them a stir. Scoop some ice cream into bowls, smother it with strawberries, and drizzle with your dark chocolate balsamic reduction. A little goes a long way. Enjoy this little twist on an old classic.

Cafe Miranda: Dark Chocolate Truffles

16 Jul

15 Oak Street

Rockland ME, 04841

(207) 549-2034

I was back on the east coast recently visiting family and by shear happenstance I ran into a lovely chocolate experience. I was relaxing in Owls Head Maine and enjoying the New England ocean vistas…

…watching the belted galway cows…

…and then went out for a lovely dinner in the evening with my father and brother for a Father’s Day celebration at Cafe Miranda.

We have been going to Owl’s Head for 25 years. In all of that time, I had never been to Cafe Miranda. This time I managed to go and it turned out to be quite a treat. With it’s intimate atmosphere and funky decoration I felt right at home. Unfortunately, I wasn’t expecting this wonderful surprise, and thus, was caught without a flash, as you can see from my blurry photographs. Although, I think that it portrays the warm, energetic ambiance of the place quite well. Cafe Miranda has one of the most eclectic menus I have ever encountered. It boasts Italian, Mexican, and Thai food. I had to make sure and get seafood since I was in Maine with Cafe Miranda’s house-made pasta. Also, the owner, Kerry Altiero is of Italian descent so I opted for a dish in the My Italian American Grand Ma section of the menu. I chose the Pasta, Mussels, & Roasted Italian Sausage.

It was delicious. Here, my dad’s semi-devoured Seafood Mixa in the upper left, my dish is the blurred mess in the foreground. That’s as far as I could go. My brother bet me $100 I couldn’t finish my plate. He won. It just wasn’t possible. Yet, I still found room for dessert.

This is where the surprise comes in. I, of course, asked for the dessert menu, wondering if there were any chocolate treasures to be found therein. There was a chocolate cake I was considering. However, our waitress announced that there were some chocolate truffles that were not listed on the menu due to their unpredictable delivery. I got very excited and told her about Chocolate Explorer and she said that I definitely needed to try the Woody-O’s as well. First, Why would truffles be unpredictable? Second, who the heck is Woody and why does he have O’s?

As soon as I got my plate, I started attempting to take an acceptable picture without a flash. I love the presentation and the color. Kerry, the afore mentioned owner, saw me with my camera and yelled,”Hey, are you a food critic? We may have to kill you!” I told him that I wrote about chocolate. To which he said, “Get her some Woody-O’s!” He then began the story of Woody the Renegade Chocolatier of Rockland. The Owsley of Chocolate.

Kerry first met Woody in Rockland when he walked past Woody’s ice cream shop The Tangerine Tiger and saw the flavor Blorange, (if you haven’t guessed, blueberry orange) on the menu. He walked into the shop and said, “There is no way that flavor works!” Woody responded, “Who the f*#* are you?” Kerry tried the flavor and discovered it to be sublime. They were friends from that day forward. The Tangerine Tiger’s doors have been closed for quite some time now. Woody has had many odd jobs since. At one point he worked as a plant in the audience to drive up  prices during auctions. Kerry went on a few of these expeditions where he acquired some of the objects located throughout the restaurant, such as his “white trash” can, which stands behind the kitchen counter, faithfully serving its original purpose.

Woody is indeed a practiced chocolatier. He once had a truffle shop in Portland, ME. Since his days as a business owner he has gone off the grid. He has no cell phone, or landline for that matter, and no one knows where he lives. He just occasionally appears with truffles and delectable desserts, requesting ingredients, such as butter, cream, and chocolate. Everyone who knows of Woody’s confections, looks forward to his appearances and his Woody-O’s, his take on the oreo, made with chocolate sugar cookies and filled with melt-in- your-mouth chocolate ganache.


Needless to say, I enjoyed every bite of my Woody’s O’s and even managed to share them instead of keeping them all for myself. The truffles, with their deeply robust, dark chocolate ganache and just the right amount of salt to be complementary, were definitely the highlight for me. There are also several chocolate dessert beverages on the menu.  One is titled cocoa d’vine, made with a combination of chocolate, cherry juice, and red wine. I was a bit suspicious of the uncommon method of pairing these flavors, but as soon as I had tasted it I wondered why I had never encountered this beverage before.

I know that I will be returning to Cafe Miranda whenever I’m in Rockland. If you ever visit, make sure to ask about the Woody-O’s and check out the Elvis shrine which also serves as a bathroom.